After 19 yrs , no Tricolour at Lal Chowk

via http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-5502781,prtpage-1.cms published on January 27, 2010

SRINAGAR: Breaking a 19-year-old tradition, the security forces on Tuesday did not hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk, the heart of heavily guarded Srinagar, where the Republic day celebrations passed off peacefully.

It’s learnt that the decision against unfurling the flag was taken at the highest level in the state because Tricolour hoisting was seen as a “needless provocation” to the separatist and extremist elements in the area, who have for years been throwing stones at the paramilitary forces positioned there. It was felt by the Omar Abdullah government that there was no traction to be obtained from such symbolic gestures. This also underlines a change in security strategy.

Flag hoisting at Lal Chowk began at the height of militancy in the state in 1991 when BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi took out the ‘Ekta Yatra’ from Kanyakumari to Srinagar, ostensibly to symbolise India’s assertion in an area where Pakistani flags were seen in a grim reminder of separatists’ defiance. Security forces used to have their own Republic Day celebration at Lal Chowk and distribute sweets and sing the national anthem, which would be followed by the hoisting of the Tricolour on the Clock Tower at the centre of the market. The ceremony now seems to have passed into history.

Meanwhile, Jammu & Kashmir observed a peaceful Republic Day for the sixth year running although most people stayed indoors following a strike call given by separatists. Mobile phones and internet facilities were suspended on Tuesday and restored only in the afternoon due to security concerns.

Lal Chowk, which recently witnessed a 23-hour terror siege, was deserted with gun-toting men in uniform in battle-ready mode.

Security forces had blocked all roads leading to the venue of celebrations in Srinagar and other district headquarters to avert any terror attack following intelligence inputs, a senior police officer said.

Marked by a colourful cultural programme presented by smartly dressed students and Kashmiri artists, state finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather took the salute at Bakshi Stadium at Huzari Bagh. Rather, who addressed mostly cops in plain clothes, appealed to all sections to shun violence and join the dialogue process following considerable decline in militancy-related violence.

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